The U.S. Public Opinion as a Major Factor in the Withdrawal of American Troops from Vietnam

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  • Topic: Vietnam War, South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh
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Vietnam Essay - To what extent was lack of Public Support the main reason for the eventual US withdrawal from the Vietnam War?

America's involvement in Vietnam gradually escalated from 1945 to 1975. Historians debate over why America even got involved in Vietnam, however it is often explained by America believing it should fight against Vietnam because of what the Southeast Asian country stood for - Communism. Many believe if Vietnam fell to communism it would only be enforcing Eisenhower's domino theory. Kennedy's presidency saw an increased commitment to Vietnam with 12,000 advisors by 1962 and increased equipment. Under LBJ, Vietnam had around 200,000 US troops by 1965 . However, 1966 had increased domestic opposition to American involvement in Vietnam and as the war continued further, opposition to it grew. Although to what extent the lack of public support was the main factor to America `losing' the war is greatly debated. Whilst public opinion can be argued to be the most important reason for initial troop withdrawal in June 1969 to quieten opposition , other factors remain important. This includes America's military mistakes, North Vietnams strengths as opposed to South Vietnams weaknesses, and Presidential restraints and retreat.

Throughout the duration of the US's involvement in the Vietnam War, opposition existed within the home country. Sanders claims it is generally agreed that opposition to the war from the public and press was probably the main reason to why Johnson finally decided upon retreat. However the extent to which the public in America did oppose the war is greatly debated. Firstly, defining public opinion itself has problems. Polls conducted both by the government and the press found that the wordings of the question had dramatic effect on answers and what a respondent states in a hypothetical situation as opposed to a real situation can be very different. However, Mueller's data repeatedly asked the question form 1965 to 1971; Do you think the US made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam?' The data showed that in 1965, 600f the public approved of troops in Vietnam, this figure had halved to 30 0n 3 years . This downhill trend demonstrates how public support for Vietnam fell from 1965 to 1971. Mueller's sources on public opinion are regarded as very reliable, most of it coming from Roper Public Opinion Research Centre at Williams College, Massachusetts .

The extent that this affected the eventual US withdrawal is debated, although it is clear that the public opinion was greatly affected by the press. Vietnam was known as the `Photographers war' in which journalists and photographers form all over the world flocked to Vietnam. Due to technology available, the press could bring images to the public eye as never before. Although, it was often misinterpretation of images that encouraged opposition at home. During the Tet Offensive 1968, a South Vietemese police chief executed a V.C. in Saigon . This image was shown worldwide however Sanders states it only emerged later that it was a death squad member who had just shot a relation of the general. The image damaged America's faith in their side as the `good guys'.' The images shown back home affected Americans because people knew relatives, family and friends who were dying like this. The extent to which the coverage upset the public contributed to eventual America withdrawal.

However whilst Mueller's statistics on public opinion show a clear decline between 1965 to 1971, it can be questioned who the main opposition to the war came from. Higgins orthodox view claimed the main opponents of the war were young however evidence suggests they were in fact just the most vociferous group. Contrary to Higgins, Mueller states that in Nov. 1966, under 30's were in fact the most supportive group of the war at 66% . Whilst the figure had dropped to 47 0n Feb 1969, it still remained higher than the over 49's Support at 31%. Karnow, an American...
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